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Ministry Insider: Wolfgang Riedner and Qavah

qavah There are a lot of exciting things happening behind the scenes here at Compassion that, as a sponsor, you might not hear about. I want to give you a little glimpse into just one of them by introducing you to Wolfgang Riedner.

Wolf was born in Nuremberg, Germany, and spent five years as a pastor in southern Germany before he moved to Uganda for 12 years to teach in Bible colleges.

Eventually he made his way to Compassion, and now he serves as our Church Partnership Director, using his cross-cultural and pastoral experience to help us build healthy relationships with our Implementing Church Partners.

Wolf, what motivates you in your job?

Honestly, what attracted me to Compassion is our commitment to the local church — how the ministry sees that God has chosen the local church to be His instrument in this world.

Many organizations started this way and then left it because it’s not always easy. One of my goals is to help local churches better see their role in the world as missional communities, to be the salt and light in their communities.

What is your role as our Church Partnership Director?

My first goal was to help us get our minds around what our philosophy of church partnership is — what we as an organization think and what our ground rules would be.

We developed our partnership principles — our commitments to how we want to behave as a partner with local churches around the world.

(In fact, you can read the fruit of Wolf’s labor — how we define partnership [3], what we view as healthy partner relationships [4] and how we build healthy partnerships [5].)

What is the most exciting thing you’re involved in now?

Qavah — it’s an initiative to empower the local church.

Qavah is Hebrew for “binding together” and it’s our new approach to empower local churches to have a new mindset to see what God can do through them. I want to give credit to Tear Fund UK; they’ve been using a similar model for 10 to 15 years, which has really helped us.

We facilitate Qavah through Bible studies held with new church partners and potential church partners. So far we’ve done it with 50 churches in six countries. It takes them through several different steps.

The first step is to help churches understand that God has placed them in their community for a reason. There are needs in their community that they can address, and children are a big part of this.

The second step is celebrating what we already have, and that’s a key distinctive. Often when you go into a community, you ask, “What do you need?” When you go in with a needs-based approach, you get a huge laundry list of needs. But through Qavah, we’re training churches to first ask, “What do we have? What has God given us already?”

That makes such a difference in terms of a developmental mindset.

Can you give an example of this?

I visited a church in Burkina Faso doing this Bible study. It was a dirt-poor area, and the facilitator had one blackboard. You could hardly read what he was writing on it. But he wrote on one side, What do we have? and the people were listing, listing and listing.

Then he wrote What do we need? on the other side. They listed some things, like a water well and other important things.

But when they compared the lists and saw all they already had, it was powerful.

The pastor asked, “Are we poor?” And the church all shouted, “We are rich, we are rich, we are rich!” They understood the new mindset.

What’s the third step for churches?

The third step is to help the partner church assess the surrounding community and what the needs are. And suddenly the church feels empowered — that they can do something about it.

In the fourth stage, they prioritize the needs they’ve seen — and then they dream dreams. Before, they were either waiting for outside help or for government help. Someone else had to do the first step. Now they’re dreaming and saying, “We can do the first step. It might be small, but that’s OK.”

The final step is to measure outcomes and make sure children really are being helped.

What is the most moving thing you’ve experienced so far?

I visited some of the churches who went through Qavah, and it was the most moving thing to see what can happen when the church is empowered in the right way, understands what God has given them, and starts using their own resources. I was in India, and one pastor said that normally when he invited people to come to a Bible study, hardly anyone would come.

But when they did Qavah, the whole church came.

It’s very grassroots; the whole church can contribute. This church has now already started taking care of children — without our help. Wow! God has so much He can do through the local church. It just needs to be ignited, and there are so many churches where that is happening.

If you could tell sponsors one thing, what would it be?

One thing we are working on is understanding that partnership is a journey and our Implementing Church Partners go through certain maturity stages.

We want to give space for innovation. And we even want to come to a point where we can graduate church partners, to say “We have done this for a long time together, and now you, the church partner, can do it without us.” Then we can graduate them, which will enable us to go to an area of greater need.

That’s very exciting, but it’s also disturbing because it means change. It means a Compassion sponsor may lose a child if that church partner can start caring for those children without Compassion’s aid. But it is an important step for any partnership.

Then this graduated church can be part of our network and mentor another church to show them how to minister to the children effectively. This isn’t where we are now, but it’s where we’d like to go. So sponsors would need to understand that although it’s disruptive, it’s a huge developmental step.